Screen Test: Helmut
Andy Warhol, United States, 1966
Andy Warhol may be one of the most renowned and controversial artists of the mid to late 20th century. His work, while found in art galleries across the globe and heralded as groundbreaking and enormously innovative, is seen as hypocritically mainstream and pointlessly pretentious in some ‘more authentic’ modern artistic communities (how many times have you see the campbell soup picture on tote bags, stickers, and buttons on your entry-level artsy friend who has whole-heartedly embraced ‘post-modern-art’?). So of course Andy Warhol’s head-scratching journey into filmmaking deserves evokes the same sort of response. Among the films he shot, which include such rewarding gems as “Empire” and “Eat” are about 500 Screen Tests, video portraits that he shot of the attractive, the famous, or the interesting.
“Screen Test: Helmut” is a five minute silent black and white continuous close-up of a young man’s face. The face remains deathly still other than the occasional blink or involuntary bat of his eyelash. The film is slowed down to about 24-frames per-second to capture these slight movements a bit better, but other than this and the choppy fade-in’s and out’s at the beginning and end respectively, nothing changes throughout the film.
Unlike some experimental films, the Screen Test series is relatively straightforward: it’s Warhol’s attempt to use film and video to paint a sort of modern portrait which takes its cues from still photography. The Screen Tests were originally arranged by Warhol into compilations or sets such as “13 Most Beautiful Men” and “13 Most Beautiful Women,” which were projected onto the walls during some of his gallery shows. There isn’t really much deeper meaning in these portraits, other than to capture beautiful people in a modern way. Warhol believed that these Screen Tests demonstrated that beautiful or interesting people could hold an audience’s attention no matter what they were doing.
Although some critics still find merit in these ‘films’ (enough so to get one put on the Cinema 16 short film collection), they would be much more appropriately classified as video-art or even experimental photography. The films lacks narrative, sound, characters, and themes, which all-together create a series case against these portraits as films.